The Errors of Inerrancy: #5 Inerrancy reduced the Biblical Authors into Ventriloquist Dummies

errorofinerrancy5inerrancy-reduces-biblical-authors-ventriloquist-dummies[The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals.]

The Errors of Inerrancy: #5 Inerrancy reduced the Biblical Authors into Ventriloquist Dummies

Inerrancy is a dictation theory of inspiration, commonly referred to as Plenary Verbal Inspiration, where each and every word of Scripture is precisely determined by God (to guarantee it is absolutely free of error). Inerrantists typically admit that the Bible contains some dictation, such as the Ten Commandments, but they often deny that the Bible is entirely composed through dictation. R.C. Sproul was a framer of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), which is the gold-standard for defining Inerrancy today, and in Sproul's commentary on Article VI of the Chicago Statement in. loc., he denied that Inerrancy's Plenary Verbal Inspiration was dictation, because "in the modern era dictation as a method carries with it the canceling out of human literary styles, vocabulary choices, and the like. This article does not mean to imply such a view of inspiration that would negate or vitiate the literary styles of the individual authors of the biblical documents." [1] On the contrary, asserting the every single word of Scripture is determined by the Holy Spirit is equivocal and indistinguishable from dictation and necessarily implies dictation as I will demonstrate in the following analysis. 

Anyone who has read a fiction novel, can see how characters may have different "literary styles, vocabulary choices, and the like", and yet everything in that novel is dictated by the novel's author. Dictation may refer to a broader practice of copying down words someone else spoke regardless of the secretary's persona, but if a person dictates in the "literary styles, vocabulary choices, and the like" of their secretary, that secretary is still doing dictation. So the fifth Error of Inerrancy is that this Inerrancy dictation theory of inspiration, known as Verbal Plenary Inspiration, reduces the Biblical Authors into Ventriloquist Dummies that are controlled by God to write down what God has dictated to them.  

Inerrancy and Ventriloquism

Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy [2]


Jim Henson voiced many muppets including Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie, and others [3]

Shari Lewis and her ventriloquist puppet Lamb Chop, and their memorable "Song that Never Ends" [4]

Ventriloquist puppets are lifeless dolls, that have no real voice or life of their own, but they appear very alive when the puppet master moves and carries them. In schema of Plenary Verbal Inspiration, the Biblical Authors are controlled like ventriloquist dummies, where every single word of Scripture they wrote is precisely dictated by God. Ventriloquism exemplifies how Inerrancy is a dictation theory of inspiration, because a ventriloquist controls their dummy's "literary styles, vocabulary choices, and the like", dictating their actions, expressions, and words. The dummies have no life or contributions of their own, they appear to be alive and really speaking, but the true voice is originating from the motionless mouth of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist strives to make the dummy appear as alive as possible, and even converses with the doll he animates, such as in the case of the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. Shari Lewis is another famous ventriloquist who controlled her beloved puppet Lamb Chop. Jim Henson was the voice of many muppets, including Kermit the Frog, Ernie, Rowlf the Dog, the Swedish Chef, Waldorf and other characters on Sesame Street.  The variation in literary styles, vocabulary choices, and the like between dummies, muppets and puppets, further proves that Inerrancy is a dictation theory of inspiration.

Inerrancy 'Prooftexts' Deny Dictation

I believe in the inspiration of the Bible ("theopneustos" c.f. 2 Tim 3:16), and that the Biblical authors were moved and carried ("phero" c.f. 2 Peter 1:20-21) by the Holy Spirit as they wrote their witness to the Word of God, and I believe this indirectly includes all the words of the Bible. Sadly, these two important verses (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21) have been weaponized by proponents of Biblical Inerrancy in the Battle for the Bible, and made into prooftexts for Inerrancy's dictation theory of inspiration known as "Plenary Verbal Inspiration". The Chicago Statement, says "Verbal Plenary Inspiration We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration." [5] By adding "Plenary" (absolutely all) and "Verbal" (words) to Biblical concept of "Inspiration", the Biblical authors are reduced to ventriloquist puppets of God that contributed nothing more than perfectly copying down the Scriptures that they heard from God in their own handwriting as if they were the hands of God.   

The Blowing Wind and the Sailboat

Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream (1899) [6]

Remember that the Apostles were fishermen in their fishing boats when Jesus called them to become fishers of men (Matt 4:19), so the imagery of Galilean fishermen in their fishing boats is the background context for both of these so-called prooftexts for Inerrancy. Plenary Verbal Inspiration abolishes the distinction between the wind that fills the sail and the sail of the boat it moves, as if there were no distinction between the movement of the wind and the fishing boat it blows upon. In 2 Tim 3:16, the word for "inspiration" is theopneustos, which literally means the blowing wind (pneo) of God (theo), and is more direct in 2 Peter 1:20-21, where the imagery is directly invoked of fishing boats being carried by the wind in their sails. Anyone who has sailed a sailboat today will tell you how difficult it is to steer a sailboat in the wind. So it is absurd to assert that either of these so-called prooftexts support dictation theory or any form of inerrancy, because sailboats never follow the exact direction of the wind. A sailboat will not move unless the wind blows on it's sails, but that doesn't mean that the boats each and every movement is dictated by the wind. The Biblical Authors were moved and carried in their writings by the Holy Spirit (like a sailboat is moved by the wind), and without the Holy Spirit, then they would remained silent and written nothing, like a boat stuck in the doldrums of the Horse Latitudes. 

It's a temptation to point out that Second Timothy and Second Peter have highly questionable authorship, but as Karl Barth said, I agree that no matter what form in which these verses have been transmitted to us (whether directly or indirectly from Paul or Peter), the words such as "theopneustos" are unquestionably Pauline in origin. Denying these verses through dubious authorship is not the right strategy. Karl Barth affirms theopneustos in his commentary on 1 Cor 2:6-16. 

In the Church Dogmatics I/2, §19 "The Word of God for the Church":

But as he sees it, this does not exhaust the work of the Holy Ghost. In exact correspondence with this knowledge of the benefits indicated to us by God's wisdom he now believes he can and must express them: "not in the teachings of human wisdom, but in the teachings of the Spirit": not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth but which the Spirit teachest: "assessing spiritual things by spiritual means": measuring and embracing in spiritual words that spiritual reality (1 Cor 2:13; cf. 1 Cor 2:6-16). In face of this self-utterance we cannot assume that Paul did not take account of an inspiration, even a real and verbal inspiration, of the Old Testament hagiographa. We have therefore no reason to think that the God-breathed (theopneustos) of 2 Tim 3:16 is non-Pauline. [7]

Inerrancy and the Occult


Ouiji Board [8]

Here's the spooky part. Inerrantists are not the only ones to claim their religious text was perfectly dictated by God. In Islam, the Qu'ran is believed to be dictated by Allah directly to Muhammad who perfectly recorded everything spoken to him in Arabic. But, the only comparable experience to Inerrancy's dictation theory of inspiration today is the Occult daemonic experience of spiritual control. For example, in the Ouiji board game, players hold a heart-shaped planchette and await for a spirit to guide their hands over the letter board to reveal truth from the spiritual world. So the closest comparison to Inerrancy's theory of inspiration is demonic possession, where a person's speech and actions are controlled by a supernatural force. Once the heads start spinning, it is time to call the Exorcist. In order to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, must I believe in every Christian pseudoscience derived from it? Must we defend all trance-like subversion of humanity in order to affirm the Scriptures are a true witness to the Word of God? I believe superstition may be averted in our believe that the Bible is a true witness to the Word of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And if we are honest with ourselves, it is not hard to admit that Inerrancy's dictation theory is uncomfortably similar to Occult control practices.  Inerrantists will quickly deny and condemn any correlation to the Occult, but the correspondences with the Occult should give us pause. If you don't believe me, I defer to the renowned Biblical scholar Clement H. Dodd. 

C.H. Dodd's critique of Plenary Verbal Inspiration in The Authority of the Bible:

We have already used the term "inspiration". This concept has had so prominent a place in the traditional doctrine of the Scriptures that we must now examine it with some care. The authority of the Bible is in fact often treated as the simple correlate of its inspiration. The question "whether the Bible is inspired" figured largely in the controversies of the last generation. For us, it is difficult to give any precise meaning to the question, so vague and fluctuating is the usage of the word "inspiration" itself, and so uncertain its implications. The theory which is commonly described as that of "verbal inspiration" is fairly precise. It maintains that the entire corpus of Scripture consists of writings every word of which (presumably in the original autographs, for ever inaccessible to us) was directly "dictated" by the Deity, in a sense not applicable to any other known writings. They consequently convey absolute truth with no trace of error or relativity. What such a process of "dictation" might be, it is naturally impossible to say, since ex hypothesi no living man has experience of it, though some advocates of the theory have incautiously adduced as a parallel the phenomena of "control" in the practice of spiritualists. Any attempt to confront this theory of inspiration with the actual facts which meet us in the study of the biblical documents leads at once to such patent confusions and contradictions that it is unprofitable to discuss it. [9]


The first step away from the error of inerrancy, is to give life to the Biblical authors. Give life to the Biblical Authors, and allow them to improvise on their lines, like all actors do. If an error or "Bible Difficulty" is discovered in the text, then attribute it to the humanity of the Biblical Author, and allow them to witness to the Word of God and speak about it in the way that is most true to their common day experience, even if it has blemishes. 


[^1] By NBC Radio/NBC Photo (eBay itemphoto frontphoto back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[^3] Por Fonte, Conteúdo restrito, Ligação
[^4] By Ford Motor Company (show sponsor). Ford used their advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, to distribute the photos - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back No copy on back., Public Domain, Link
[^5] The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article VI
[^6] By Winslow Homer - art database, Public Domain, Link
[^7] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, Vol. 1.2, Sections 19-21: The Doctrine of The Word of God. Trans. T. F. Torrance. Vol. 5. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 60. Print. Study Edition. [515-6; Translations added from the footnotes]
[^8] Public Domain, Link
[^9] Dodd, C.H. The Authority of the Bible. New York and Evanston: Harper Torchbook, 1962. 41-2. Print.


The Errors of Inerrancy: A ten-part series on why Biblical Inerrancy censors the Scriptures and divides Evangelicals:

#1 The Church has never possessed an inerrant Bible
#2 Inerrant Original Autographs are a Tautology of Biblical Inerrancy
#3 Inerrancy Censors the Bible’s Capacity for Error 
#4 Inerrancy denies that the Bible contains scientific errors
#5 Inerrancy reduced the Biblical Authors into Ventriloquist Dummies
#6 Inerrancy obscures Jesus with the Bible
#7 Biblical Inerrancy’s Myth-Making Machine, Unveiled 
#8 The Protestant Reformers Would Not Affirm Biblical Inerrancy (Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al.)
#9: Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope. 
#10: Biblical Inerrancy Divides Evangelicals


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  1. Interesting. I’d be a bit wary of insisting that the inerrantists really do believe in a dictation theory when, as a rule, they so strongly assert that they do not. I wonder if there is a bigger question lurking behind this, which is how we schematise and understand the interaction between God and human beings in general. It strikes me that Barth, with his christological starting point on this (as every) question, comes up with at the very least a strikingly different flavour to his doctrine here compared to the average inerrantist. Would it be better to say that the inerrantists aim to avoid muppetry in their doctrine, but that on their presuppositions of divine/human interaction this becomes difficult to sustain?

    • Great comment daniel. Thanks for reading. I’d like to see a reasonable explanation how it is not dictation. Otherwise it is indistinguishable from dictation, but not called “dictation”

  2. Even though I don’t agree with the doctrines Verbal Plenary Inscription/Inerrancy, the originators of the doctrines here in America were capable scholars and followers of the ‘Old School Theology’ movement at Princeton, like the late B.B. Warfield. Unfortunately, the modern movement is more interested in promulgating ill-conceived versions of simplistic biblicism than serious scholarship that explains the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the process of the Twelve being eyewitness of Christ to creators of tradition.

    I also share an indebtedness to Barth’s theology and his opposition to bibliolatry: but I maintain that it doesn’t automatically nullify the concept of testimonia (a fairly new theological concept) that attempts to locate the act of divulgement in the words and ministry of Jesus. He clearly sets it forth in the Upper Room Discourse. The Spirit’s work and the Twelve’s own witnessing (see the Gospel of John 15:25-26 and 14:45-26) that is the basis of all future teaching. The message was transferred from eternity to time and history: from the Father to the Son the Twelve. Note John 16:12-15.

    Yes there are still valid issues to be addressed, but both sides of the issue need to explain how the message became encapsulated.

    • Thanks for the comment John. The Chicago Statement is in the tradition of Old Princeton, but it’s degree of error is much higher. Thanks for sharing your take on this topic.

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